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Release Date:June 6, 2006

Contact: Elizabeth Griffin
410-951-7361
egriffin@crs.org

NEW SUPPLIES ARRIVE IN EAST TIMOR, MORE THAN 50,000 GET RELIEF

June 6, 2006, Dili, East Timor - The U. S. government turned over to Catholic Relief Services today, more than ten tons of supplies desperately needed by the tens of thousands of East Timorese who have fled their homes in the last two months of violence and political upheaval here.

The supplies, including plastic sheeting for temporary shelters, 6,000 gallons of water, more than 1,000 hygiene kits and 1,000 blankets arrived at about 2:45 PM today [1:45 AM (EDT)], aboard a Moldovan-registered Antonov 12 chartered from Dubai by USAID.

“There are some countries that do not identify with the United States, but East Timor is not one of them,” said Joseph Grover Rees, the U. S. ambassador to East Timor who joined CRS officials at the airport to take the delivery.

“The people of East Timor are going through this ordeal and we have to identify with them,” he said. “This kind of assistance shows that we do identify with them and helps them to identify with us.”

“We’re also proud and happy that organizations like CRS and CARE are giving their all in this emergency,” the ambassador added.

CRS and CARE will share the supplies that arrived today and distribute them among their beneficiaries and other non governmental organizations working on relief efforts in the current crisis. “CRS and Caritas Australia are providing support for over 25,000 people in seven locations. These items will help these people maintain human dignity and prevent the spread of disease and illnesses related to exposure.”

The delivery took place on one of the tensest days in the last fortnight since Australian troops, along with troops from New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal, arrived on the island to try to restore order at the invitation of the country’s president Xanana Gusmao.

Troops in the capital were in high alert in anticipation of the arrival of some 2,000 people from western East Timor bent on demonstrations against the government of Dr. Mari Alkatiri who supported the decision to sack half the army was viewed as a catalyst for the upheavals here.

Today the troops were patrolling the streets in fast-moving convoys of armored personnel carriers and walking patrols. For several hours today, the main bridge linking the city and points west was closed.

As the USAID delivery was being loaded onto trucks to be taken to CRS headquarters, word came that trucks carrying hundreds of demonstrators from the west were passing by the exit from the airport. The convoy of USAID vehicles, a CRS vehicle and the five trucks loaded with supplies moved quickly from the airport and reached CRS headquarters without incident.

Distribution of the supplies will begin within 24 hours. The need for the emergency supplies is intense.

More than 60,000 people have fled their homes – many of which were burned down by roaming gangs from rival ethnic groups – and are living in camps at schools and other institutions.

East Timor is not only the world’s newest nation, having gained independence from Indonesia in 1999, but it is one of the smallest and poorest. At 60,000, the number of people from Dili who have sought refuge in camps around the city would be more than half the city’s 100,000 population. Another 15,000 are estimated to have fled to the other districts.

The violence they tried to escape reached a point of near anarchy a couple of weeks ago after a crisis between the government and the military led the prime minister to fire half the armed forces. This was followed by violence in which some 20 people were killed, burning of homes by roving gangs of rival ethnic groups and sporadic street fights.

The international forces have managed to quell some of the violence, but their presence here is regarded as temporary until the national police force can be reconstituted and deployed.

In the meantime the tens of thousands of people who have taken refuge are not expected to move for at least another two months. Some of them have no homes to reclaim.

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency provides assistance to people in 99 countries and territories based on need, regardless of race, nationality or creed. For more information, visit www.crs.org.

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